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Henry Rasof and his Collection of Com/Co &tc. Ephemera

Henry Rasof was a member of The Orkustra, an eclectic experimental "electronic chamber" rock band in the Haight-Ashbury in 1966-67. The Orkustra played at various Digger happenings, including free events in the Panhandle and at other venues. Most notably, they played at the Invisible Circus in February 1967. [See below for more info on the band.]

Henry contacted me in 2017 and mentioned that he had a collection of Communication Company sheets, and a year later, he sent the complete set to me to include in the Digger Archives. It is for moments like these that an archivist lives. Herein, then, are scans of the sheets that Henry donated. I wanted to present them here separately (apart from the hundreds of other ComCo sheets) for a couple reasons. First, I wanted to acknowledge Henry's wonderful gift. Second, I wanted to maintain the "unity of the collection" because there is something special in seeing what one person who experienced that era saved after five decades.

 

Gallery of Henry Rasof Collection of Communication Company &tc. sheets

[Click on thumbnail image to view larger version]

The following are not Com/Co sheets but are closely associated with the Haight and the Digger scene.

 

 

The Electronic Chamber Orkustra

Some Researches into The Orkustra's History

The Orkustra (variously described as an "all electric jazz band" and an "electronic chamber group") performed together less than a year. But what a year it was. From September/October 1966 to July 1967. One site provides a listing of the musicians and performances (although a cursory search shows it to be incomplete). The original members included Bobby Beausoleil on guitar, David LaFlamme on vocals and violin, Terry Wilson on drums, Jaime Leopold on bass, Henry Rasof on oboe and "Neal" on flute. The excerpt (below) from Beausoleil's history of The Orkustra states that they were known as the "Diggers' band" but the original Diggers have always disputed that designation. After some research, I agree. There is much evidence of the (paid) shows The Orkustra performed during these ten months. They were busy. Shows at The Coffee Gallery in North Beach; later at the Cedar Alley Coffee House and California Hall in the Polk neighborhood; the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms; Sokol Hall in the Haight; and various venues in Berkeley. By comparison, their appearance at free/digger events was not so overwhelming that they would have been considered the "Diggers' band."

Beausoleil, in the excerpt below, mentions that they played at the first free concert organized by the Diggers (and Hell's Angels) on a Sunday in the Panhandle. This was likely the New Year's Wail that took place on January 1, 1967. The article in the San Francisco Chronicle that appeared the next day mentioned that "The Chamber Orkustra" was the first band to play that day. Beausoleil mentions that they played at the Digger free concerts "several times" and though that may be correct, so did the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and Steve Miller and other bands. The other named event that Beausoleil mentions is the Invisible Circus on February 24 1967 (which was a collaboration of several groups including the Artists Liberation Front, the Diggers, Communication Company, and others). Beausoleil's account, of playing rock music to the accompaniment of the troupe of belly dancers, jibes with the article in the Berkeley Barb (3/3/67, p. 1) although the article doesn't name the rock group that performed.

The Diggers did not think of The Orkustra as their "house band" by any stretch of the imagination. But what might be the origin (or at least the perpetuation) of this idea is Charles Perry's The Haight Ashbury: A History. Perry recounts that The Orkustra ("which had a reputation as the Diggers's band") performed at the Christmas Eve 1966 "Digger Feed" that took place at Hamilton Methodist Church on Waller Street. Except, Perry got it wrong. The Orkustra performed on Christmas Eve 1966 but it was at St. John's Episcopal Church in the Mission District. There are two sources that prove this. First, the site previously mentioned cites that performance and venue. Second, an article in the San Francisco Oracle Vol 1 No. 4 (Dec 16 1966, p. 24) announced the planned appearance of the Orkustra at St. John's for a midnight mass. So, if Perry got this important date/venue wrong, and The Orkustra did not perform at the Digger-involved event on Christmas Eve, then who knows where he got the idea that they were the "Digger's band"? No underground (or overground) newspaper accounts of the time use that designation in talking about The Orkustra.

Nevertheless, Beausoleil's account (below) is an important part of Digger history and shows how the Diggers were the impetus for free music in the Panhandle, one of the communal rites of the new community that arose in the Haight-Ashbury.


Remembrance of The Orkustra and the Diggers

(excerpted from "The Orkustra: Notes from the Psychedelic Underground" by Bobby BeauSoleil)

[Note: Bobby Beausoleil can be seen in the (above) Orkustra posters wearing a stovepipe top hat. After performing at the Invisible Circus event, Beausoleil left The Orkustra and ultimately left San Francisco. He would later achieve infamy as one of the Manson Family murderers and is now serving a life sentence in Oregon state prison.]

Our first significant performance, and a defining one for the band, took place on a Sunday afternoon in the Panhandle section of Golden Gate Park. It was the very first in a series of free concerts that would take place in that location, organized by the notorious Diggers. By this time, hundreds of young people had already migrated to the Haight community, and more were arriving every day. Many of them had but recently left the homes of their parents on a wing and a prayer, arriving in the Haight with little or no money, no street experience, and ill-prepared to provide themselves with the necessities of basic survival. The Diggers had declared it their mission to coordinate relief efforts, finding and providing essential food, clothing, communal housing, and medical treatment to the migrants, all free of charge. The free Sunday concerts in the park were urban guerrilla theater events staged by the Diggers, all in the spirit of fun and good times, to bring a sense of harmony and unity to the growing throngs of erstwhile hippies. In addition to live music, huge pots of savory vegetable stew were on hand for anyone who might be hungry.
 
The Orkustra’s association with the Diggers was initially an outgrowth of simple proximity to one another. The old warehouse on Page Street that we used for a rehearsal studio was located directly across the street from a row of derelict wooden garages that the Diggers had procured and made into their headquarters. Above the doors of the garages was a whimsical sign proclaiming them to be “The Free Frame of Reference,” the Diggers’ free store, where second-hand clothing, blankets, kitchen utensils, and sundry household items could be had for the asking. As members of The Orkustra and some of the Diggers encountered one another on a daily basis, a casual relationship was formed. Emmett Grogan, one of the Diggers’ founding members and chief instigators, took a particular shine to The Orkustra. He liked our free-form musical style and devil-may-care attitude, being so much like his own nature, and invited us to play the first of the free concerts in the Panhandle.
 
A makeshift stage was set up under the trees and a generator was brought in to provide electricity to power the amplifiers. As we began to play, a crowd grew quickly around us. Our performance was very well received by everyone save for the cops who showed up to inform us that the crowd exceeded the number of people who could lawfully be gathered in a public park without a permit. We were allowed to play one more song before we had to shut it down. We made it a long one. Thereafter, the Diggers made prior arrangements with city officials to obtain permits, and with a flatbed truck to serve as a stage and power source, the weekend concerts in the Panhandle became a regular feature of life in the Haight for some time. The Orkustra played that venue several times, along with The Grateful Dead, The Charlatans, Big Brother, and other San Francisco rock band luminaries of the period.
 
We played so many of the Diggers’ events, in fact, that we became known in some circles as The Diggers’ band. One of the most memorable of those events was the inaugural ceremonies that launched the infamous Invisible Circus festivities at Glide Memorial Church, wherein The Orkustra performed musical accompaniment for a troupe of half-naked female belly dancers who had been brought in for the expressed purpose of kick-starting the event. Our collective efforts were a rollicking success from my point of view, but the church fathers and city officials saw it from another perspective.

[Found at: http://www.bobbybeausoleil.com/the-orkustra-notes-from-the-psychedelic-underground.html]
 

 
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